OnePlus Proves its Easier to Build a Great $400 Phone Than a $700 One
OnePlus is no stranger to making waves in the market. The hardly 3 year old company has survived a tough and very public breakup, some of the worst advertising blunders in the industry, and a much-maligned invitation system.
More than any other manufacturer, possibly including Samsung, their haters are just as vocal as those who love the company often sounding off in forums and on Reddit. Last year they launched the “2016 Flagship killer”; a phone that shipped with 3-hour charging times, no NFC, and one of the worst processors – with one of the worst implementations – in recent memory.
Welcome to a new, more grown up, more attractive OnePlus. In the past year they have dropped – most – of their overly boisterous claims and the invite system is no longer, they also seem to be improving customer service. One thing OnePlus has been reliable at over the past few years is cramming some of the top specs into an affordable and attractive package. Fortunately, little has changed with the OnePlus 3, they kept what has made them great and fixed much of the bad that made them so controversial.
Welcome to a new, more grown up, more attractive OnePlus.
So far this has been an interesting year for flagships and we are only passing the halfway mark. While many saw 2015 as the birth year of excellent mid-range devices like the Nexus 5X, Idol 3 and ZenPhone 2, 2016 can be seen as the year the flagships are fighting back. HTC has finally put out a compelling top-tier phone, Sony has rejuvenated their entire lineup (although with misleading branding), and the Lenovo-backed Moto lineup is pushing modularity alongside LG. However, nothing these manufacturers can do can get these devices out from under the shadow of the Samsung Galaxy S7 pair. Exynos or not, the S7 is a no-compromise smartphone with few if any legitimate knocks against it.
The screens are gorgeous, the batteries last, fit and finish are unlike any prior Samsung devices, and somehow Samsung has figured out their software situation. Even security updates are coming out on a timely basis for the device, although they can be scattered throughout the variants as a loud and clear testimony against Carrier-branded software. The HTC 10 and LG G5 are still great phones, though they have their faults. The HTC 10 could stand to do a little better in the battery department, but it delivers the best HTC experience since the One M7 so long ago. Yet a class competing camera, fit and finish that makes the iPhone jealous, and great performance just aren’t cutting it anymore for the upper tier flagship. The same goes for the LG G5, packing almost the same performance package as the S7 plus a removable battery, and not just one but two of the best cameras you can get on a smartphone.
In 2016, it is really hard to make a great $600+ smartphone
Even with these accolades someone actively in the market for a new $600+ smartphone has little to reason to look farther than the iPhone 6S or Galaxy S7 unless they have a bias towards another manufacturer. As HTC and LG are figuring out, in 2016 it is really hard to make a great $600+ smartphone stand out when goliaths like Samsung and Apple make such great hardware and stand above the rest. It’s not that companies like HTC, LG and Sony – well, maybe not Sony – aren’t trying hard to get a small slice of the market share, it’s that the S7 and iPhone are that good.
Nestled firmly in the mid-range flagship tier of the market, OnePlus has carved out its own niche that it finally solidified with the OnePlus 3. Available now for $400, the OnePlus 3 packs many of the same features of the $600+ flagships. It has largely the same processor, RAM speed, internal memory type and a competing camera. It even takes things a step farther by shipping with 64GB of internal memory and 6GB of RAM. But corners have been cut, the 5.5” screen takes a step back from other phones by “only” using 1080P screen (a resolution which negatively impacts the viewing of AMOLED panels more so than LCD), the vibration motor has had its fair share of critics and the fast charging is only available through its proprietary charging solution (and Oppo’s VOOC, perhaps). OnePlus is quick to turn most of these apparent cons into positives and in some cases it makes a great argument in doing so.
The quick charging solution allows the phone to stay cool by moving most of the circuitry to the wall-wort and the 1080p screen mated to the 820 SOC allows for endless gaming with near no throttling or performance loss, something only the iPhone can achieve — and without significantly impacting charging speed, too. OnePlus, by launching for $400, avoids the S7’s shadow that the HTC 10 and LG G5 are forced to live under and fail in doing so, and that is the OnePlus secret.
That’s not to say OnePlus has no competition though. ZTE would like a large slice of OnePlus’s market with the Axon 7, a $450 powerhouse. Taking the OnePlus 3 to the next level, ZTE brings largely the same package as the OnePlus with the additions of a QHD screen, front firing speakers, f1.8 and 20MP rear camera and a 24-bit DAC. But there is something to be said about understated simplicity. While the Axon is trying to look every bit as premium as the phones it is targeting, OnePlus has almost taken a humble approach to the 3’s design, a far cry from OnePlus of old. The same is true of the software where ZTE has gone for a modified take on Android whereas OnePlus laregly sticks with a tried-and-true simple AOSP approach with its Oxygen OS. Both manufacturers stand to learn a thing or two about software updates as both don’t have the best track record, but OnePlus has the best position for improvement due to its closeness to AOSP and its outstanding developer community and support.
While HTC and LG (and let’s not even bring up Sony) are struggling to duke it out with Samsung at the top by producing great phones that always seem to come up short, OnePlus enjoys none of that competition. OnePlus has ticked almost all the right boxes and skipped the appropriate ones. They built a high-performing, solid-all-around, top contender while avoiding the shadow of the S7. I’m not saying that the OnePlus 3 is better than the Galaxy S7, but what I am saying is that the OnePlus 3 stands alone in providing the best flagship experience for $400 and can easily be recommended without the reservation that the HTC 10 and LG G5 have to deal with.